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A deadly pandemic originates in Asia and sweeps around the globe, killing more than 100,000 Americans. A successful manned space mission briefly unites a nation with a sense of wonder. Police and National Guardsmen face off against protesters demanding racial justice and suppress riots in city streets. The military is tied up in unwinnable foreign entanglements, a culture war rages, and electoral politics is a dumpster fire.
Reason magazine is a baby, just over a year old, and editor Lanny Friedlander is wrapping up the November issue. It is a small operation, so he has also written most of the contents.
The question he poses on the cover is "The Cops: Heroes or Villains?" He sketches the landscape: "After each recent mass police action that shed blood—People's Park, Chicago, Harvard, Columbia—debate begins anew. 'Liberals,' 'conservatives,' 'radicals,' 'lawnorder Democrats' argue endlessly: were or were not the cops brutal?"
More than 50 years after Friedlander published his "editorial notes on police brutality," you can add to that list George Floyd's death in Minneapolis with a knee on his neck, Eric Garner choked on a New York City street corner, Breonna Taylor shot in her Louisville home during a drug raid gone wrong, and thousands of clashes between law enforcement and private citizens in the nationwide protests that followed. It is the same argument, with the same factions, in 2020.
"As is so often the case," Friedlander writes ruefully, "it is the New Left that comes closest to the truth, if only accidently. It is absurd, they say, to argue whether or not the police were brutal in any particular instance because the system is brutal by definition. As the system's agents of enforcement, the police cannot but be brutal."
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